• Sophie Eloise Kelly

Every Workplace is Just Another Playground. (Part 2)

So, carrying on from my previous post, here are the remaining bit and pieces I've picked up about the world of work and our relationship to it. It may have morphed a little bit as I think we have an interesting relationship with 'work' on the whole. In 2019, it plays a much big role in our personal identity and our psyche than it ever has done and the path to a healthy and sustainable career appears to be becoming more and more subjective. Anyway, here are the rest of my musings on some of the things I have observed and experienced in the workplace.

No job is ever a waste of time.

Often you can't really see the value in something when its right in front of your face, and this is definitely true of jobs. I recently read a blog post by a man named Gary Vaynerchuk, founder of New York based ad-agency VaynerMedia with a reported net worth of $160 million, (I thought he might be worth listening to). In the article he talks about how important it is to work 'close to the sun' in your twenties. In other words, its best to take a low paying job that gets you on the front-line of what makes a consumer tick and how people spend their money, rather than taking a higher paid graduate position. If you're dream is to one day own a hotel or a restaurant, get a waitress job or a be a housekeeper before anything else: if you have never been in the thick of the action of what you are selling, how can you make the correct decisions further up? You can apply this to pretty much every industry and he says it will give you valuable insight and experience further down the line.

I have done a string of 'front-line' jobs throughout my twenties, including a lot of sales and customer service roles. I used to think they weren't offering me anything other than the money, but i'm starting to see that wasn't necessarily true.

There is an understanding of human behaviour behind every successful business that can only really be learnt first hand and the companies that are smart to this, know the best people to ask about what is working, what their customers are truly responding to - are the people at the 'bottom', who actually deal with them on a day to day basis.

So no job is waste, but do be wary of how long you stay in a position. Whenever I've talked about career moves with my dad the expression 'well you've squeezed all the juice out of that lemon' is often used when its time to move on and I think that's as good analogy as any.

Every job you do is teaching or showing you something, either about yourself, or the world around you, even if you can't see it at the time. The only thing you have to do is figure out what that is - and you'll likely only do this in hindsight.

You can have more than one career in your lifetime - and maybe this is something to aim for.

Absolutely. In my previous post I talk about how when you choose a career, you're also choosing a lifestyle. Different lifestyles may suit us at different times in out lives. This may, in turn, facilitate the desire for a new career direction. Like in relationships, in our jobs we'll probably have different needs at different ages. For example, when you have kids, having a 9-5 city job with a lot of travel may no longer fit and a career with more flexible hours may become more attractive. Alternatively, what motivates us can also change; maybe you once wanted to make as much money as possible, but now you're financially stable, you'd rather do something creative. Or a job that offers adventure was once all you wanted, but now there's an emerging desire to place roots.

There are two big myths that keep people stuck in careers they don't like long after they really want to; 1) That when you choose a career, it has to be for life and 2) That we're all only capable of being really good at just one thing. You don't have to be an full on PHD expert to be really good at something - i'm not talking about being an Elon Musk style polymath here - you can be really good at a few things across your life and make a good living.

Also, and most significantly of all, as you go through life, learning more about yourself, your strengths, passions, motivations, and what you can happily lose hours of your life doing (that's not Netflix or online shopping..), this in itself may lead to changes in your career direction - which if you think about it, is great!

Don't resist them. I believe most people have the potential to be brilliant in many different areas but pigeon hole themselves too early - or allow someone else to.

Forget the ‘figuring it all out by ‘x’ age’ – you have your whole life to find what you love to do/ master an artform/build a business/take over the world. So calm the hell down.

You really do have more time than you think. Forbes magazines' '30 under 30' was a stroke of brilliant website marketing. It tapped into the wildly competitive nature of young entrepreneurs, already hungry for success, who then began setting themselves the goal of 'making it' before they were 30...so they could appear in the magazine and receive all the glory not only making it, but making it young. Like a red rag to a bull, it played on that basic human need to compete - regardless if the competition makes any beneficial sense. It was a very clever strategy, which meant the magazine would not only never be short of contributors, but it also skyrocketed website traffic and elevated the profile of the 'Forbes' brand.

Thing is, there really is no rush. My Grandad recently died aged 97. That is more than 3 times my current age. He was still his clever, witty, wildly intelligent self right up until the end and could have studied and created things right into his later life if he had so desired. As you go through you're life, you're also going to learn and change and you may get a brilliant idea at 45, experience a life change at 64 or find a new motivation at 35.

At 29 I feel like I'm only just getting started in terms of building any sort of career at all - and I'm still not even 100% sure what that is!). But if I end up leveraging the same success at 43 that someone else had at 28, it doesn't make it any less valuable. Go at your own pace. Also, its no secret that speed can often compromise long-term sustainability...remember the Hare and the Tortoise? Exactly. Don't worry - you have time.

Finding a work-life balance isn’t for everyone.

I love balance and I think it is incredibly important in creating a healthy life (body, mind, spirit, bank account, shoe collection etc etc.) - but in a somewhat contradictory (and mind boggling) way, part of being balanced is actually having periods that are wildly off balance. Its symmetry; yin & yang, night and day etc etc. I do believe that great things never come from mediocrity or comfort (oh wow I sound like my Dad....!) and having a consistent work/life balance is a good theory - but what if you just work better under stress? Or we just need to devote the entire next month to late office hours to getting this thing done so we can hit the deadline and relax after? A day to day work/life balance doesn't really fit in here.

There is also a theory suggesting procrastination is not as much of a bad habit as it first appears. In a study I read a few years ago (I'm trying to find it!), employees who were considered procrastinators spent a period of time working like their non-procrastinator colleagues. The results showed that when forced to work the 'correct' way, the chronic procrastinators produced lower-quality work than when left to their usual last-minute devices. In conclusion, it transpired that some of us actually need the pressure to produce our best work, so having to stay 'balanced' might not always work for everyone. On a personal note, reading that article was a relief. I'm a huge procrastinator and in some areas this has tripped me up (*cough cough med school*), but before I look totally hopeless, I can also sit at my laptop for 10 hours solid writing, and become so absorbed I forget to eat or drink. Its not balanced or healthy, but turns out it is how I work best and knowing that means I can learnt to play it to an advantage.

You most likely have a whole vault of transferable skills.

You really really do - which is why you should always apply for that job even if you don't think you have the experience. Its also good to recognise this when you're trying to sell yourself. To use an example; if I was a recruiter, travelling alone and living abroad alone would tell me straight away you had a level of mental toughness and were likely to be able to work independently. As glamorous as those things can look on Instagram, they don't come without sometimes battling a weird loneliness (what is that?!) and and the occasional urge to give up and go home. Mental toughness is a skill you can transfer to everything and it would definitely be useful in my fictional business. So don't undersell yourself because you're c.v. is a little messy or inconsistent. Its true, hiring managers do favour minimal risk candidates that fit their brief, but I don't think that always finds them the best employees, and clever businesses will be aware of this.

Empathy, insight, respect and kindness are as important in the work place as they are in your personal life.

At the end of the day we're all just people. Even the most heartless among us still bleed - they just don't like to show it. In many of the places I've worked, there is always someone who seems to have developed a 'badass' persona in their job - as if by being themselves (i.e. a softer version) this would hinder their ability to do their job sufficiently. (It won't.) Maybe back in the ball-breaking 80s this worked, but the millennial workplace is turning out to be a little different. Yes we're a 'softer' bunch but is it that really a bad thing? Operating around a fear of one scary boss may work in the first instant, but in a world where moving from job to job is no longer seen as taboo, it won't be possible to build a healthy and sustainable business if everyone who works for you immediately starts looking for another job. Building good relationships is a key part of most jobs, and it would make sense that facilitating a working environment where this is possible should be a priority. We work better for people we get on well with, and who appreciate us. (google it and you'll find all the research!). I have a lot of acquaintances and friends who work or have worked for the NHS. We all love the NHS, its a great British Institution, and a real reflection of British values, but I am yet to meet someone who loves working for it. From what I can gather, it has sadly become a micro-managed, thankless business with no interest in the mental or physical welfare of its staff. This in turn, has generated a tense and resentful working environment, encouraging many young employees to seek alternative employment or risk sacrificing their mental health. And its no secret the NHS is suffering - but how can you expect a business to thrive when it doesn't even take care of the basic human needs of the staff? (Enabling them to have adequate sleep and time to grab a sandwich in the middle of their 16 hour shift?).

Anyway, I am happy that 'soft skills' are finally getting recognition for the power and value they have. Just be nice at work and treat staff like the people they are, not robots. It's the way forward. People work better for people they like.

Check in with what’s really motivating you regularly – it might not always be healthy.

And it might even be holding you back. When I worked the ski seasons, it amazed me how many people spoke longingly of wishing they could give it all up and do what I was doing. When I asked them ‘well why can’t you?’, most of them didn’t really have a proper answer other than fear - and an attachment to a comfortable salary. Being a rep at 27 was easy for me. I'd been at uni so long, I’d never had a comfortable salary to give up in the first place, but it did open my eyes to how it could become a bit scary to build a career and then go back to square one again. But why not? money? fear? not being the same as where everyone else appears to be? Even if you hate it? Being motivated by the need to belong and be validated by others is human nature but if you're making career choices based on trying to impress other people, it might not be all that healthy in the long-term. After all, you only get one life - and most people are far too pre-occupied with their own lives to care that much about yours anyway.

I spent 5 weeks working in close proximity to the contestants on a reality TV show last year. For most of them, the desire for fame and success was astronomical, many of them were willing to do literally anything. However, upon hearing some of their back stories, full of family rejection, heartbreak and emotional trauma, my psychotherapy brain couldn't help but see all that need for fame and validation wasn't exactly coming from a very healthy place.

To quote Ruby Wax; make sure what drives you, doesn't also drive you up the wall. Being an ambitious, driven individual is great, but just check its coming from a good place. No amount of success, accolades or achievements will make you happy if you're just using them to fill a void or gain validation from other people.

So there you go, I am neither wildly successful, nor a terrible failure so I'm never sure how qualified I am to write about anything, but I hope this has given you something to think about and put the world of work into a bit of much-needed perspective. The main thing to remember when it comes to jobs and careers is that its' so personal, and our pathways and choices are often from very uniquely different places. And to be selfish - but with self awareness. You don't need to waste too much time being anyone's donkey but sometimes its necessary, and acquiring power and position doesn't give you a free pass to be a douche. And just be nice. For gods sake just be nice.